That Partner Voodoo That I Do

Matthew Richardson Columns, Lawyer 22 Comments

Dear Partners,

I have a small request: Please stop driving associates crazy.  Why?  Because if you do, then we’ll all stop wishing death and harm on you and be more productive employees.

At 6:30 PM last Tuesday, fed up with my gut expanding from Friday margarita benders and sedentary bouts induced by thin attempts to ramp up my billables, I was preparing to take off for the gym.  At this point in my legal career, nothing clears the early-week haze and prepares me for late-week binge drinking quite like a workout and a steam.  That, and I enjoy seeing old balls.

At 6:32, my phone rings.  It’s a partner who I’m on a deal with.  In reality, I’m blatantly slacking on this particular assignment and haven’t done anything on the deal in weeks. Every time I see him, he keeps saying things like, “Gonna be heating up soon,” “Get ready for hell,” and every other clichéd partner phrase that make associates want to punch you all in the face. I contemplated not picking up, but as I recently stated, I’m trying to at least make an attempt to at least make an effort to at least try to look like an actual lawyer.  And people like that normally pick up the phone at 6:30 when a partner calls.

“This is Matthew.”

“Thought maybe you had left for the day.”

I clack the edges of a stack of paper on my desk to sound fully engaged in something profitable.

“Me?  …Never.  What’s up?”

“In Section 6.13(d) of the reps, we really need to bang out those changes we talked about by tomorrow, so—”

My teeth began grinding into nubs because in 20 words, this partner tripped into the pitfalls of my two biggest pet peeves of partner/associate interaction:

1.  Partners who think of themselves as on-call doctors

We all know that Biglaw is a nightmare.  And sometimes it requires your full, around-the-clock attention. However, those rare occasions should be limited to closings. In all my years of working, I have never, ever, ever seen the benefit in making someone pull an all-nighter any sooner than three weeks before a deal closes.  You not only drain associates of all energy for the entire next day, you make them hate you.

2.  Partners who assume I keep logs of every conversation we’ve ever had

How the hell do I remember all the crap that came out of your mouth when we shared an elevator three weeks ago?  Come to think of it, what human could?  Maybe Ray Babbitt or kids with autism can recall it verbatim, but not Matthew Richardson.  (Come to think of it, why haven’t I grabbed my friend’s autistic five-year-old and headed off to Vegas yet?  I could clear the tables with that rug rat.)

But seriously, would it be so hard when a Partner calls for him to say something as straight-forward as, “Hey, Matt, how’s it going? What happened with that slob you took home after the summer event?  Great.  Look, do you remember a few weeks ago when we were discussing the _________ deal? Take a look at the reps section, refresh your memory on it and call me back so we can have an intelligible conversation about it.  Okay?  Thanks.”

Instead, Partners seem to thrive on hearing associates hem and haw before sticking them with some crap response to sound competent.

“Section 6.13?  Ahh, yeah, uh huh, sure…”

“Let’s get it done then.  Only instead of—”

Call it burn out, call it old age, call it a lack of grunt-worthy sex, but when I hear this s#!t out of partners’ mouths lately, I silently undergo a psychotic break.  My nub teeth could barely bite my tongue.

This is hate.  I mean voodoo doll hatred.

In my top drawer, tucked behind my new “Girls of the ACC” Playboy, which is carefully tucked behind a distraction of office supplies, are two voodoo dolls of partners. One of them made me stay up for 70 hours straight, which triggered my now-chronic back problems. His particular voodoo doll even has a comb-over, push pins in his spine, and I think I gave him swine flu.  The other is of a female partner who didn’t know her ass from her elbow but thought it was “cool” to work ridiculous hours because she was a gunner. She pretty much thought everyone should bill 300 hours a month to be doing a decent job. The truth was she had absolutely nothing to go home to.  So her voodoo doll has flapjack titties and chair ass, and I used to rub it on toilet seats hoping she’d contract something horrible.

I began contemplating making the two a trio and doing black arts on my current deal partner as I frantically rummaged around my desk for the proper credit agreement.  By the time I actually found it, I had missed any relevant information and requests he had just plowed through.

Realizing I’d inevitably fuck it up if I didn’t ask him to repeat it, I stepped on the flaming bag of poo.

“Okay, so can you repeat that?”

“Come on, Matt.  Get your head out of your ass.”

Whose fault is this???

Some might say mine for not speaking up in the beginning of the conversation, but I don’t think so.  Every time I take that approach, I somehow irritate the partner with my lack of awareness of the inner workings of his brain.  I’m working on multiple deals—just like him. I keep track as best I can with little white boards and Post-it notes scattered about; however, I, nor any associate—no matter how much of an ass-kiss—will ever master the art of mind reading. Voodoo?  Maybe.  But never will anyone know everything that went through your goddamned mind the three minutes before you picked up the phone and called us.  It’s not going to happen.

So please, when you call, at least give us a second to sort out what the hell you’re even referring to.

And for any partners who are reading this and dismissing me as an outright degenerate, just know that my fellow non-degenerate associates are sitting at their desks carving voodoo dolls of you when you do these things. I’m just the only one man enough to admit it to you.  So stop it. Please.


Matthew Richardson

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  • BL1Y

    Now let me get this straight, 8-10 years of doing bullshit work and picking up legal knowledge piecemeal through somewhat random and unconnected projects, and spending long hours in an office where most of your interactions are in e-mail or on the phone with Lexis doesn’t make someone into a skilled communicator or manager?

  • Anonymous


  • Craig

    That little autism bit made me laugh out loud in law school class.  Thanks.  I guess I should know better than to read Matthew Richardson during class.

  • BL1Y

    I used to play a game where I’d try to read Tucker Max during my admin law class without laughing.  Way more challenging and entertaining than spider solitaire.

  • Anonymous

    I used to play a game where I tried to read the Onion during torts, way more challenging than Tucker Max.

  • Anonymous chickus

    I used to constantly get caught laughing in class thanks to some of my classmates hilarious AIM group chats.  Also, there was the fun endeavor of finding, reading & forwarding the online personal ads of our professors Try not laughing in class where the guy at the front goes on and on in his profile about how he loves to sit by the pond, listen to Neil Diamond and feed ducks. Ummm, cool.

  • Skadden Dude


  • por

    Hilarious. Wiping the doll on the toilet – I am going to buy one now online.

  • Anon22

    hilarious piece I have to say.

  • BL1Y

    Toilet seats are surprisingly clean.  They mostly only come in contact with butt cheeks (covered 99% of the day, and thus pretty clean) and stray urine drops (gross, but at least sterile).  If you want to get the voodoo doll dirty, rub it on toilet/urinal handles.

  • Anon Partner

    Ooooh, a voodoo doll, I’m so scared. That will definitely stop me from treating you like a worthless underling. I hope this chump gets fired soon so I don’t have to listen to this worthless drivel.

  • Legaleasy

    Funny, you don’t realise that legal workplaces are so toxic until you get out of them, do you? I’ve been in-house for three years now and mentioned this to a colleague still in biglaw the other day. It was like a light bulb went off above her head.  So, what can we do about it? I have some theories and I think it boils down to what is referred to as trans-generational progression – “the sins of the father…etc”. Have a look at the suffocatingly rigid class system in the UK and consider where our legal systems have their roots… Developing some programs to highlight this problem and suggest solutions. Got any ideas on what would make a difference for you? After all, if you’re going to spend half your life at work, you may as well grab a chance to enjoy it!

  • Guano Dubango

    I do not understand this.  In my country, VOODOO is standard.  All persons have access to VOODOO, and if you want to provide ecstacy to woman, you use VOODOO.  But it will not allow man to get woman for marriage.  For this, VOODOO does not work.  VOODOO is useful for exacting revenge on surly bosses or for that matter website tools that delete posts.  Beware, tools, or the VOODOO spell will take place.

  • KateLaw

    The way Big Law firms are managed makes absolutely no sense to me after working for a large corporation.  Here, they understand the direct relationship between employee satisfaction and the ultimate success of the business.  We have so many processes and programs in place already (with more always being implemented) just to ensure a positive employee experience.  I am talking entire day meetings to brainstorm about how we can improve certain areas where surveys have shown we’re lagging.  While annoying at times, it all does make a difference and you truly see an improvement in the quality and quantity of work performed by co-workers.  I wonder if the fact that most lawyers do not have much/any formal business education plays a role in the backward and inefficient methods in which BigLaw is operated –not to mention the steadfast reluctance to make any real changes.  In the corporate world, everyone is staying abreast of new management styles and strategies that will assist in improving the company’s overall operation on every level.  I believe that this same commitment to improvements and efficiency in BigLaw is desperately needed.

  • Barney

    voo doo doll pretty frickin funny.

  • Dannyd

    dude, you are the man for admitting it.

  • Magic Circle Jerk

    I feel your pain sir.

  • Anonymous

    that playboy isnt that good

  • Robert Smith

    Nothing irriates me more than a whiny associate like the type that wrote this piece.  He’d obviously be happier at a “lawyer’s GM” dominated by “United Lawyers Workers” rules.  “Oops! Sorry! No Can do! All work requests have to be submitted by 4pm the day before!” “I’d like to but memo asssignments have to be preceded by a meeting and an outline.”
    When I was an associate, nothing irritated me more than disorganized partners. So instead of passive/aggressive whining and smearing dolls on toilet seats, I became famous and often resented by others who didn’t see it as appropriate, for assuming control of matters: I met with a partner, got the gist of what neded to be done and added my own: I got it done; even told him I needed associates to “get it done” and got them.  On fridays, I was able to say “its done; its set for Tuesday,” etc.  But if somethig came up I had missed and it NEEDED to get done, I did it. Because I am not a unionized auto worker and don’t expect anyone to pay for my work if its not on time, done well and so on. 
    When I came up for partner, I was perceievd as one already.  Yes it killed a lot of weekends–then.
    If you’re not reaching out to “become one” with your firm, you won’t need to worry about being there that long. You’re probably already marked as a smoldering whiner to be axed when the time comes.
    If you want to control your schedule, “become the partner” on the case in all but name. He or she will value you. You’ll be far too busy to waste time with dolls.
    PS to Kate: I don’t disagree: I flatter (sincere flattery though), cajole etc my staff: they’re jewels.  But people earning more than 100K a year ought to act like more than legal secretaries “waiting” for another assignment.  Law firms don’t have patents or product lines to insulate them: we just have personal service whih has to be renewed each week. One buffoon associate can cost a client of 20 years overnight. The associates need to step up and help by acting like more than wallflowers at a dance.

  • a legal mind for the moment

    it’s a great insight and you’re definitely onto something there.  i wonder if the sale of voodoo dolls will go up as a result of your column.. it certainly would put those voodoo dolls to better us than most of the population who currently use them. partners treat you as if you’re a fungilble twit which clearly you’re not, when if they were more humane and more people-skilled and more human beings than petty tyrants and taskmasters they’d get much more mileage out of you. tell us more,.

  • BL1Y

    If they were more humane and more people-skilled and more human beings than petty tyrants and taskmasters, they wouldn’t be lawyers to begin with.


    wouldn’t be law if you were motivated by something other than fear.